The top priority of most peacebuilding programs is transforming rebels into civilians: getting them to give up their guns and rejoin civilian life.
The process — called “DDR,” for disarmament, demobilization and reintegration — usually is led by the United Nations, which has worked on DDR in 20 countries since its first such project in 1990, in Nicaragua. Today, the U.N. maintains 13 active DDR programs, most of them in Africa.
The process reflects a shift in rebel groups' missions: from violently pursuing their grievances against governments to pursuing those grievances nonviolently as civilians — and sometimes as statesmen — through politics and civil society. “The incentive of DDR is political will: ‘We will go toward disarmament because we have decided within our organization that's how we want to grab power, to share it by integrating into the government,’” says a U.N. staffer, who asked not to be named because he was not an official spokesperson.
Militiamen loyal to Ivory Coast's former President Laurent Gbagbo — who gave up power after a deadly months-long post-election conflict — gather for a disarmament ceremony on April 29, 2011, in the country's commercial capital, Abidjan. Troops loyal to the new president, Alassane Ouattara, and U.N. peacekeepers also attended. Disarmament is a peacebuilding priority. (AFP/Getty Images/Sia Kambou)
The process requires militants to renounce armed rebellion. “In order to be part of the political process, they need to disarm — to become political, and not military, actors,” says Tino Kreutzer, who worked with the U.N. on DDR in the Central African Republic (CAR), where dissatisfaction over a 2005 election sparked rebellions in much of the country.
The former insurgents — or their leaders — often hope to exchange military power for political power. But not all members of an ex-rebel group are likely to get an equal share of the post-conflict political spoils. While leaders of former rebellions may make presidential bids or receive high political appointments, the foot soldiers frequently are left to return to civilian life with little or no income and few prospects for a good livelihood.
Rebel groups often raise funds by extorting “taxes” — essentially, bribes — from civilians. “The way in which rebel groups fund themselves is largely by preying on the population — ‘taxing’ roads, ‘taxing’… traders or villagers on their way to the market,” notes Ned Dalby, a Nairobi-based researcher for the International Crisis Group, a nongovernmental organization dedicated to resolving conflicts. In the CAR and in neighboring Democratic Republic of Congo, rebel groups extort taxes from local, independent miners.
For such groups, disarmament is against their interest because ongoing conflict assures an income. Thus, whatever agreement rebel leaders may make at a negotiating table may not be followed by their subordinates — at least not without some kind of supplement for their lost income.
That's where reintegration comes in. Once combatants hand over their weapons, they usually are offered food assistance, skills training or even cash when they return to their villages. “The idea is that they don't depend on the movement to feed their family,” says Kreutzer. Reintegration support “helps them reestablish households and provide for their family [until they can] find a job.”
That support can take several forms. Former combatants may be given pots and pans, blankets and cooking oil. Sometimes they are given food directly; sometimes they are offered seeds to plant. Occasionally, they may be given money for transport or other immediate needs.
Cash, though, can complicate the picture. For instance, peacebuilders have learned that buying back guns — an early approach to disarmament — is usually counterproductive. More often than not, it just drives up the local price of weapons. And sometimes the money is spent on new weapons.
Peacebuilders also have learned that post-conflict economic development and nation-building go hand-in-hand with DDR. After all, says Laurent Banal, the DDR operations chief in the CAR, “These armed movements are, in fact, rebellion against poverty, mainly, and lack of presence of the state.”
— Jina Moore